Full leg cramps can cause painful sleep disturbances and approximately sixty percent of people report feeling leg cramps at nighttime. Nocturnal leg cramps, often known as charley horses, are painful, involuntary muscle contractions of the legs that occur at night.
Despite the fact that nocturnal leg cramps typically subside within minutes, they are uncomfortable and can disrupt sleep sufficiently to cause issues. Most commonly, the feet and calves are affected. Additionally, women and older persons are more likely to encounter nocturnal leg cramps, but anybody can experience them.
Read on to learn all about the causes of nighttime leg cramps and different ways to treat leg cramps at night.
Causes Of Leg Cramps While Sleeping
Leg cramps can be painful and upsetting causing disturbances in sleep and there could be different causes of leg cramps. The combination of one or more of the following factors and your particular physiology may be the cause of your pain when you wake up.
1. Insufficient stretching
Some researchers believe that our modern way of life is to blame. While our ancient ancestors frequently squatted—a position that stretches the muscles and tendons in the legs—modern life mostly eliminates the need for it. There is also proof that living a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, which includes spending a lot of time in front of computers, and screens reduces tendon and muscle length and limberness, which may cause cramping.
2. Awkward sleeping position
Experts have noted that when you lie on your stomach in bed, your foot is frequently in a position known as “plantar flexion,” which means your toe is pointing away from you and causing the shortening of your calf muscles.
Even slight foot motions could cause a cramp if the foot is left in this position for an extended period. It may be a healthier option if you sleep on your side, elevate your feet off the mattress, or adopt another position that maintains your toes straight and does not point in the opposite direction.
3. Seasonal Variations
According to research, summer is the time of year when leg cramps occur more frequently than in winter. The frequency of these cramps tends to rise in the middle of July and crater in the middle of January, however, this isn’t always the case.
It’s critical to realize that nerve problems, not muscular abnormalities, are what cause severe muscle spasms. According to electromyogram studies, these cramps are caused by nerves that go from the spine down to the calf.
Why summer then? Experts believe that nerve development and healing may be more active during the summertime.
Because of the higher levels of vitamin D throughout the summer. Sunlight exposure causes your body to generate vitamin D accordingly and your body may engage in “accelerated” neuronal repair during the summer when your D levels are at their highest, which could result in severe cramps.
Some data suggest that dehydration encourages nocturnal cramps. Muscle cramps occur more frequently in the summer and less frequently in the winter. This implies that the onset of cramps is influenced by heat and possibly also by fluid balance. Additionally, dehydration may encourage blood electrolyte imbalances, which may be a cramp cause.
5. Strenuous Exercises
Muscle cramps have long been associated with strenuous exercise. The authors of a study published in the journal Current Sport Medicine Reports argue that skeletal muscular overload and exhaustion can cause localized muscle cramping in the overused muscle fibers.
According to the study’s authors, this occurs even among highly skilled professional athletes. Although stretching and staying hydrated may be helpful, there is no proven way to stop these overuse cramps.
6. Deficiency Of Nutrients
Research suggests that abnormalities in calcium, magnesium, and potassium contribute to cramping, albeit the evidence is largely contradictory.
Each of these electrolytes contributes to the maintenance of fluid balance in the blood and muscles, so it makes sense that cramping could occur if their balance is off. However, studies have had conflicting results, so additional investigation is required to determine how these nutrients specifically affect cramping.
7. Standing up all-day
Studies have shown that those who stand for a large portion of the day are more prone to get leg cramps than those who sit. Moreover, blood and fluids tend to pool in your lower body when you’re standing still and not moving. This could result in fluid imbalances, tendon and muscle shortening, and cramping as a result.
Another study conducted on long-acting beta-adrenoceptors, or LABAs, and diuretics showed that people who took these medications were at an increased risk for nocturnal cramping (high blood pressure medications like Thalitone, and Clorpres for example, have diuretic effects). According to his study, it’s possible that these medications have a “stimulatory” impact on receptors, and motor neurons which may encourage cramping.
Leg cramps are also more common during pregnancy, probably as a result of weight gain and disturbed circulation. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the pressure a developing fetus puts on the mother’s nerves and blood vessels may also be the cause of cramping.
10. Specific Health Issues
Leg cramps are also a symptom of hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and depression. and neurological disorders. As was already mentioned, medications may be to blame in some situations. However, several of these disorders, such as diabetes and neurological disease, can damage or even kill your nerves, which may cause cramping.
Leg cramps may also be related to aging. Rest cramps begin to become more prevalent “about the same time as we start losing our motor neurons,” which is roughly in our early 50s. According to a study, exercises that focus on balance and strength may help keep the muscles and nervous system operating in ways that prevent these problems.
How to Reduce Leg Cramps at Night
Even while the root cause of nighttime leg cramps remains a mystery, there are steps you may take to lessen their occurrence. Leg cramps are not usually a sign of anything serious. In contrast, if you have cramps in your legs frequently, you should consult a medical professional.
However, you can try the following ways to reduce Leg cramps at night.
Since dehydration is a known cause of muscle cramps, maintaining an adequate fluid intake throughout the day may help decrease the frequency of these painful episodes. Drinking water during long periods of outdoor activity or intense activity may help, even though some studies say that nocturnal leg cramps are not caused by dehydration.
In addition, studies have shown that consuming pickle juice10 during a cramping episode can quickly reduce the intensity of the cramp.
If you suffer from frequent or severe leg cramps at night, try stretching or practicing yoga before bed. After around six weeks, leg cramps and soreness can be alleviated by performing a stretching routine right before bed.
3. Try A Epsom Bath
Some people get relief from their nightly cramps after a bath, but this claim needs more investigation before it can be widely accepted. One method for relieving muscle soreness is to take an Epsom salt bath. Magnesium sulfate is the active ingredient in Epsom salt. It is possible that taking an Epsom salt bath will improve your magnesium levels, thereby relieving your leg cramps.
Massaging your calves or feet before bed may help you reduce cramping during the night by relaxing the muscles in your legs. Consider asking a helper if you’re physically unable to do something.
5. Heel Walking
Some people find that walking in their heels alleviates their nighttime leg cramps. Try getting out of bed and walking on your heels if you wake up with a calf cramp in the middle of the night. This type of walking can be helpful for relieving the tightness in the calf muscle, but it has not been shown to be as effective as stretching for relieving leg cramps.
The Use Of A Stationary Bike
Before you go to sleep, try pedaling slowly for a few minutes to relax your legs.
1. Alter The Position In Which You Sleep
Avoid lying in a position where your feet are pointed down as you sleep. Put a pillow under your knees and try sleeping on your back.
2. Avoid bedding that is tucked in or thick
Your feet may be forced lower while you sleep if your bedding is dense or tucked in. Pick a
comforter and loose, untucked sheets that will let you sleep with your feet and toes upright.
3. Select supportive shoes
Poor footwear, especially if you have flat feet, can exacerbate problems with the nerves and muscles in your feet and legs.
4. Take an over-the-counter Anti-inflammatory Drug
If your leg still hurts after following these tips, take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications like “naproxen (Aleve)” and “ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)” can ease soreness following a cramp. Tylenol, or acetaminophen, can also be effective.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you frequently experience cramps that keep you from sleeping. To avoid cramping, they could recommend a muscle relaxant. They can also assist in managing any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your cramps.
- Garrison, S. R., Dormuth, C. R., Morrow, R. L., Carney, G. A., & Khan, K. M. (2015). Seasonal effects on the occurrence of nocturnal leg cramps: a prospective cohort study. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 187(4), 248–253. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140497.
- Hallegraeff, J., de Greef, M., Krijnen, W. et al. Criteria in diagnosing nocturnal leg cramps: a systematic review. BMC Fam Pract 18, 29 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12875-017-0600-x.
- Bergeron, Michael F.. Muscle Cramps during Exercise-Is It Fatigue or Electrolyte Deficit? Current Sports Medicine Reports: July 2008 – Volume 7 – Issue 4 – p S50-S55 doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31817f476a.
- Garrison SR, Dormuth CR, Morrow RL, Carney GA, Khan KM. Nocturnal Leg Cramps and Prescription Use That Precedes Them: A Sequence Symmetry Analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(2):120–126. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.1029
- Manini, T. M., Hong, S. L., & Clark, B. C. (2013). Aging and muscle: a neuron’s perspective. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 16(1), 21–26. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e32835b5880
- Miller KC, Mack GW, Knight KL, Hopkins JT, Draper DO, Fields PJ, Hunter I. Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 May;42(5):953-61. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c0647e. PMID: 19997012.
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